The Pixel 4 is set to go on sale this week, and if you buy one, you’ll be sure to get the Pixel with the best processor, camera, and Assistant features. But just because it’s the latest thing doesn’t mean it’s the greatest—nor that you should run out and drop nearly a thousand bucks on one. The Pixel 4 and 4 XL certainly bring a whole bunch of new tricks to the Pixel’s bag, but are the new parts and paraphernalia worth an upgrade or a switch?

Google Pixel 4 and 4 XL

pixel 4 full Michael Simon/IDG

Latest price: $799/$899 at the Google Store

What’s better than before

Specs: As always, Google has upgraded nearly every component that matters in the Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL. You’ll get a new processor in the Snapdragon 855, 50 percent more RAM (6GB vs 4GB), and a new second telephoto lens for the rear camera, so zoomed shots and portraits will look better. You’ll also get a bigger battery in the Pixel 4 XL (3,700mAh vs 3,430mAh) and a slightly bigger screen in the smaller Pixel 4 (5.7-inch vs 5.5-inch) versus the Pixel 3. The Pixel 4 also features a 90Hz refresh rate for smoother scrolling and swiping.

Features: There are two major new features in the Pixel 4 XL: Motion Sense and Face unlock. Face unlock replaces the rear fingerprint scanner with a Face ID-style 3D camera for secure facial recognition, and Motion Sense lets you control certain actions on your phone (such as snoozing alarms) without touching the screen. You also get the new speedier Google Assistant and a new Recorder app that transcribes everything you record using live AI. You also get a handful of new camera features, most notably Astral mode (for snapping pics of stars), live HDR+, and Dual Exposure for controlling exposure and tone mapping.

Unique color: Oh So Orange

What’s not so great

Specs: Design-wise, the Pixel 4 isn’t a huge improvement over the Pixel 3, but if you hated the Pixel 3 XL’s notch or love square camera bumps, the new look will be an improvement. Still, it pales in comparison to the Galaxy Note 10 and iPhone 11 Pro. There a few other head-scratching deficiencies: the battery has been reduced from 2,915mAh in the Pixel 3 to 2,800mAh in the Pixel 4. You still have the same 64GB and 128GB base storage with no expandable memory slot. And in addition to the lack of a headphone jack, Google isn’t including a pair of USB-C earbuds in the box this time around. The Pixel 4 also doesn’t have the 3’s dual front camera, though the remaining camera retains the ability to take wide-angle selfies.

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Features: In my testing, Motion Sense worked very well, but it’s limited to switching music tracks, snoozing alarms, dismissing timers, and silencing calls. That’s a pretty small feature set, but there is a ton of potential going forward. Whether the Pixel 4 actually realizes it is another story. Face unlock also works well, though Google warns that someone could use your face to unlock your phone even if your eyes are closed (i.e., you’re sleeping). Granted, a bad actor could also use your finger to unlock your phone when you’re not fully conscious, but facial unlock is supposed to be virtually impenetrable. So this is a pretty big hole—and one that’s not present on the iPhone.

pixel 4 xl camera Michael Simon/IDG

What’s coming to older Pixels

Google has announced that “a version of” Night Sight’s new astral photography feature (that lets you snap pictures of stars) will make an appearance on the Pixel 3 and 3a. However, the new Neural Core on the Pixel 4 likely means the feature won’t be as good on older phones. Presumably the new Google Assistant and Recorder app will also be making their way to older Android phones, but Google hasn’t announced their arrival yet.

Buying advice

If you have to have the latest of everything, this is the phone to buy. However, with a very high price tag, few groundbreaking features, and a couple of curious deficiencies, you might also want to consider the discounted Pixel 3—or possibly wait to see what the Pixel 4a brings next year.



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